Time to Fly

by Lisa A. Crayton

One day

That two-word phrase has tanked many Christian writers’ hopes of publishing. While we wait for one day—a day that does not exist on any calendar—we languish in dreams deferred and wallow in regret because oneday we did not take to heart Ecclesiastes 3:1 and submit work for publication or query a dream market.

That famous verse speaks of beginnings and endings. It often reminds me of my first forays into freelance writing. I had quit my corporate job, acting on what I believed was God’s instruction to become “a Christian writer.”

I did not fully understand what that meant. I did know it meant stepping out of my comfort zone and pursuing writing that draws readers into closer relationship with Jesus Christ. It also meant writing for publication, a process that takes words from my heart—and, sometimes, my journals—and placing them before editors who can bring them before audiences small and large. 

I failed miserably in those early days, but I knew that on some Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, if I kept perfecting my craft, querying, and submitting my work for publication, I would realize my dream of being a Christian writer. I was right!

Writing is only one aspect of yielding our words for God’s use. Publishing is the other. One of the greatest barriers to publishing is the reluctance that prevents us from seeing beyond our creativity and marketing efforts to the end results: lives changed. 

Reluctance almost made me miss the opportunity to strengthen the faith of a childhood friend about a decade ago. I was a scheduled member of the faculty of an out-of-state Christian writers’ conference. As the Saturday before the event neared, I kept dithering about my attendance and toyed with cancelling my appearance, but God kept reminding me of Ecclesiastes 3:1. There’s a time for everything. It was time to fly.

Struggling with indecision fueled by reluctance I went to church on Sunday. My pastor’s sermon was “Time to Fly.” When he announced the title, I chuckled, knowing God was secretly sending me a message to stick with my plans.

I flew out the next day. I soon realized God had another purpose for my visit to California. Because of the time zones, I had to stay an extra night after the event. That evening I met with first-ever best friend and her sister. We had a delightful time reconnecting after more than two decades of not seeing each other. For years we had promised to one day visit each other but never did. 

Before they left my hotel room in the wee hours of the morning, I prayed for them, asking God to bless them. A short time later, my friend shared she had recommitted her life to Christ thanks, in part, to my visit. Speaking with her, I understood Ecclesiastes 3:1 more than ever before. I’d wanted to stay home, but I had to fly so that another soul could reconnect with God. 

One day does not exist. For Christian writers to achieve our goals—and God’s ultimate plans for our writing—we must overcome self-placed barriers to publication.  Sure, there’s a worldwide pandemic. Sure, it’s hard to focus because of local, national, and international happenings. Yet, perhaps more than ever, God is saying, “It’s time to fly.”

 It’s time to toss aside one day thinking and commit to writing, and releasing our work on a given Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Only then can we fully realize God’s greater plans for our creativity. Only then can potential readers receive much-needed encouragement, hope, and peace during and after the pandemic.

Lisa A. Crayton is an editor, award-winning freelance writer and multi-published author, including 15 nonfiction books for kids/teens. She loves helping writers, and challenging them to achieve their goals and dreams! Connect with her on Facebook.

Time Travel of the Nonfantasy Sort

by Joyce K. Ellis

During a rough patch in my personal life, I couldn’t write. I had deadlines but couldn’t focus. God seemed silent, and the Enemy filled the void with accusations. I felt disqualified, unworthy of my calling as a writer. Was it time to quit altogether?

Each night before bed, my husband reads to me from a devotional book, and at that time we were reading Chris Tiegreen’s Hearing God’s Voice. At one of my lowest points, the daily selection was written as though God Himself were speaking. Phrases and sentences burned into my soul:

You would be shocked if I told you how many people refuse to seek My voice because they feel disqualified…They don’t consider themselves worthy enough….

God continues:

Don’t keep your distance from Me. I’ve gone to great lengths to bridge that distance and unite us as one. When you run from Me, hide from Me, or even just grow cold toward Me—whether through your guilt, shame, fear, or apathy—you are wasting a gift I have paid an enormous price to give you.”[1]

I felt as though Tiegreen could peer into my soul at that very moment.

But imagine: That book had been published several years earlier. Considering how slowly the gears of publishing turn, Tiegreen undoubtedly submitted the manuscript at least nine months or a year prior to publication. And because the devotional book covers a whole year, who knows how long it took him to write the 365 devotionals–and arrange them so this one would fall precisely on April 15, right when I would need it? (Of course, he had no way of knowing.)

God’s voice. God’s comfort. God’s encouragement. God’s timing.

A prophet’s time travel, of sorts—projecting those words forward?

I’ve always shunned any possibility that I may have the spiritual gift of prophecy. I can’t tell people what will happen to them in the future like Daniel or Elijah or one of the other biblical prophets did. Besides, the consequences for erroneous prophecies were severe!

Then I learned a definition of a prophet as a “forthteller,” more than a foreteller. And a desire to “tell forth” to others what the Lord is teaching me has been in my spiritual DNA from my early years as a believer. I pondered the way Chris Tiegreen typed words on his computer that “projected forward” to my need years later. I thought about other times I had been helped by that kind of “time travel” from other authors. On the other hand, over the years I have prayed for God’s guidance as I write—that the words would meet the needs of readers. But I hadn’t fully understood their time-travel potential.

It all came full circle, however, when my book, Our Heart Psalms (twenty years in the making) came out at the height of the COVID pandemic, followed by street violence. In God’s time-travel plan, Our Heart Psalms seemed a book “for such a time as this.” There was a reason it had been rejected, rearranged, and rewritten so many times—and finally published in 2020.

A friend gave a copy to an elderly woman whose husband has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. Quarantined with him, this woman has few interactions with other people. But some of the words, possibly written twenty years earlier, touched her heart, and the woman wept as God met her on those pages.

What if I had quit writing when I was at such a low point? What if Chris Tiegreen hadn’t written those words that encouraged me to keep listening to God? What if he hadn’t followed God’s direction to place them as the April 15 reading? What if we served a God who didn’t have perfect timing?

“Let’s not get tired of doing what is good [what God has called us to do],” Paul wrote. “At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:9 NLT, brackets mine).

“As for God, His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30 NIV).


[1] Chris Tiegreen, The One-Year Hearing His Voice Devotional (Carol’s Stream: Tyndale, 2014), 105.


When You’re Afraid to Write the Wrong Thing…

by Randy Petersen

I have no words. For a writer, that’s a strange place to be. Maybe you’re feeling something similar.

This is no “writer’s block.” We know all about those cerebral deserts. Channel some bad Hemingway, laugh about it, and you can usually write your way out.

But there’s no laughing now. Just a deep sadness over injustice. Frustration that we have not changed things more. Despair over the human condition—fighting injustice with more injustice. Fear that I’ll write the wrong thing.

I cling to the belief that there is power in a word fitly spoken, or written. The pen should be mightier than the sword, shouldn’t it? But right now I’ve got nothing.

Except for you, my comrades in communication. Except for this.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

A prophet gathered all of God’s requirements into this triptych (Micah 6:8), and it matches the current crisis well. Let’s start with humility. If only everybody would think as I think, we wouldn’t have these problems! Oops. When we start directing traffic, we’ll get run over.

Mercy is a huge word it takes a lifetime to understand and even longer to practice. Let me suggest that it operates best on a small scale, in your personal relationships. How can we invest our lives in the people we know, people who are just as imperfect as we are?

And in this time we’re all being confronted with matters of justice. This quickly gets into societal structures and systemic issues. Are we, intentionally or not, abetting injustice? What can we do about that?

We writers will not change the world, except when we do. We can carry on the work we’ve always done—nudging hearts, shining the light on truth, suggesting redemptive scenarios people might not have imagined yet. We’re just wordsmiths, and yet language might be the lever that budges the planet into a different orbit.

Listen to the Holy Spirit’s whispers. Invest in relationships. Investigate injustice, even if you don’t like what you find. And keep writing.

In the Margin: Adventures in Freelance Scheduling

by Randy Petersen

I scurried across the Wheaton College quad, rushing to a play rehearsal in the spring of my sophomore year. An old friend was approaching from the other direction, someone I’d known well as a freshman but hadn’t seen for a while.

“Great to see you, man,” I launched without breaking stride. “How are you?”

I was expecting a quick “Fine,” as we both hurried on our ways, but he slowed up and said, “Not too good.” Clearly he needed to talk.

So I stopped, and we talked, and the chapel clock rang out the hour as I stood there and listened. My frantic race across campus had stopped cold, but I was confident that God wanted me right here, being there for my old friend.

Wise Ways

I got to rehearsal fifteen minutes late. My cast-mates were finishing their warmups under the wise and caring eyes of the director, Jim Young. Head of the theater department, Jim was one of the greatest saints I’ve ever known.

“Sorry I’m late,” I told him, “but I think you might approve. I saw an old friend who needed to talk, and I sensed that God had brought our paths together in that moment. I decided it was best to stay there and be a friend to him, even if it made me late.”

Jim saw my sincerity, I think. This was not just a sophomoric excuse. What’s more, it fit with what he was always teaching us, in theater and in our faith—paying attention to others, living fully in each moment, being open to God’s leading. He wasn’t mad, though he might have been a bit bemused that I was using his own ethos to justify my tardiness to his rehearsal.

Calmly he replied, “Perhaps next time you could leave earlier, to allow time for anyone God brings into your path.”

Stop and read that sentence again, because there’s wisdom in it that I’m still unpacking.

Yes, live in the moment. Yes, listen for God’s guidance. Yes, stop and help people along the way. But if God has cast you in a play, get to rehearsals on time. If God has given you a writing assignment, meet that deadline. Create margin in your schedule so you can keep in step with the whims of the Spirit and still get your work done.

Lord Willing

There’s a pertinent example in the book of James, though I’ve been misreading it for most of my life. The author chides those who confidently announce, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”

This has led many of us to an almost superstitious reluctance to talk about future plans without appending the words Lord willing. As James says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?” (James 4:13-14 NLT).

Only recently did I notice the words stay there a year. This is not about going to a barbecue on Saturday. It’s a long-term business venture. This means uprooting your life, going to a different city, and working there for a year. And why? To make money.

From the text of this epistle, we know that the original recipients included some wealthy business owners. James urges them to care for the needy, pay their workers well, and not expect special treatment. We get the idea that these folks made decisions based on money. Profits meant more than prophets. (Hey, see what I did there?)

James suggests a different priority: “What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that’” (v. 15).

Freelancers often make decisions based on profitability, at least in part. Will I get paid enough to make this job worth my while? That’s a reasonable consideration. But James invites us to add another checkpoint. What does the Lord want?

Many of us have done work for free, or for minimal pay, because we felt that God wanted us to. And I imagine others share my experience of saying yes to a high-paying project—a no-brainer from a profit standpoint—and regretting it later. We should have asked that second question.

Micro and Macro

Now let’s pull this whole thing together.

As Christian writers, going about our work and our lives, we might think in terms of micro-guidance and macro-guidance. If we are asking what the Lord wants when we take on assignments, that’s macro-guidance. We can confidently say we’re on a mission from God. So when an interruption comes on deadline day—say, a friend we haven’t seen for a while—we can have the discipline to say, “I’m already working on what the Lord wants, so let me call you back tomorrow.”

Better yet, we can tap into the wisdom of my theater professor and build some margin into our schedules. That might allow us to follow the micro-guidance of some minor interruptions while still being macro-guided to meet the deadline.

Addendum: I wrote this piece shortly before the Coronacrisis hit, and I realize that many people’s lives have changed drastically. Perhaps you have more “margin” than you want. Yet you’re still making micro-decisions every day, though these may be quite different from your previous daily decisions. Let me suggest this might be a good time to work through the balance of micro-guidance and macro-guidance. How is God using these daily decisions to shape your future life and career?

 

Vocation Now and Later

by Stephen R. Clark

Whenever the idea of Christian vocation is addressed in an article or conversation, there’s a well-known quote attributed to Frederick Buechner that almost always comes up: “Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Actually, as Buechner himself explained in an interview¹, it’s not a direct quote, but it captures the essence of what he was getting at.

As Christian writers, imbued with God’s image, we all want to know why we’re here. What we’re supposed to be about. For what purpose did God create us?

And we tend to spend a lifetime seeking “the” answer to that question.

In the meantime, we write and live and move and have our being, going about our days, doing our best to please God and enjoy Him for now and here, longing for over there.

This we call our Christian walk.

God-shaped

In the process of living our lives and doing our writing in the light of God’s Word, we seek to be better people. To be Spirit-filled, God-shaped, Christ-redeemed creations.

We care about those around us. Go to work and do our writing as well as we can. Give money to those in need. Do acts of service. Treat people well. Grow where we are planted.

As we do these things, our writing vocation and purpose take shape through our humble, clumsy service to God.

Perhaps we even recognize that our “purpose” is not singular, but rather a series of purposes, a multiplicity of callings. All, of course, anchored in Christ connected by His will flowing through us.

From time to time, our thoughts turn to heaven. “What’s that going to be like?” we wonder.

Honestly, I’m not sure Christianity has done a good job of revealing what heaven and the new earth will be like.

What it won’t be like is how it is cartoonishly characterized: you’re sitting on a cloud wearing a halo and wings strumming a harp. The Bible does, however, refer to us reigning with Christ. It mentions streets, cities, dwellings. All of this implies activity.

Frankly, I’m really hoping there will be books. I think there’s going to be a lot of time to catch up on my reading!

Foreshadowing the new earth

A couple of years ago I read a really great book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey. I strongly recommend the book to everyone.

On the topic of Christian vocation, Pearcey states, “In our work we not only participate in God’s providential activity today, we also foreshadow the tasks we will take up in cultivating a new earth at the end of time.”

As Spock would say, Fascinating!

This means we’re going to have stuff to do over there on the other side. Stuff for which we are perfectly suited, that fits to a T our created personalities, that extends our unique giftings into eternity!

Wowza! That sounds, well, darn fun!

And how we live now, all we do here on earth in this short time we have, prepares and shapes us for the rest of our eternal lives.

Holy vocational education!

Going back to Buechner, he explained, “When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done. In other words, if what makes you happy is going out and living it up and spending all your money on wine, women, and song, the world doesn’t need that.”

This helps sift down the possibilities for us in terms of what we’re made for. Wanton carousing isn’t something this earth or the new earth needs.

Glorify and enjoy

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

In this we find further guidance when it comes to vocation as well.

We seek to do that which pleases God, serves Him and provides us a sense of enjoyment—joy, satisfaction, contentment—in the process.

Add in the context of Luke 10:25-37, where the double commands to “Love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself” are clarified in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Clearly, what we do must also benefit those around us.

So vocation is not about us having our fun, doing what we want, living our truth, even if it’s not hurting anyone else. How we live here on earth, what we do now, has eternal consequences.

And so our vocation doesn’t end at heaven’s gate, because death for the Christian isn’t an end. It’s a new beginning to a new life . . . and a truly glorious career!

So, how’s your on-the-job training going?

===

¹ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, “Frederick Buechner Extended Interview,” May 5, 2006

 

Pandemic Frustrations

by Randy Petersen

Where are the words when I need them?

This is my first pandemic, and I’m frustrated. I want to help, but I’m not sure what to do. My stock in trade is language. I want to craft sentences that provide comfort or hope or clarity to those who need it. But I’m drawing a blank.

As a Christian writer, I feel even greater pressure. I am called to love others, and words are generally the way I do that. So where are the words now?

Maybe I’m just cranky because all my activities have been canceled and there are no sporting events on TV, but I do get tired of the platitudes. Facebook seems awash in shallow sentiment. I don’t want to add to the emptiness. Yes, I love the lyrics to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as much as any theater guy, but I long to create a new message for this unique time.

Is this just an inconvenient attack of writer’s block, or is there something about this crisis that disables creativity?

I know it’s absurd to complain about this, when my neighbors are troubled by illness and fears of illness, fears for loved ones, loss of jobs and income, the freefall of retirement savings, etc. No need to cry over my spilt mojo. But maybe you’re feeling something similar.

If so, my writing friends, let me share the things I’m telling myself.

Platitudes. I don’t like them, but most of them were created for times like this. And they carry enough truth that they often help people. For years, my pastor has said, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” Now I want to hear that every day. So don’t be afraid of those truisms. Unpack them. Refresh them. But don’t dismiss them.

Permission. One of the most important things a communicator can do in a tough time is to give people permission to feel what they feel. This is especially true among Christians. Are you frightened? Depressed? Frustrated? Lonely? Angry with God? If you as a writer express your difficult feelings, you’ll have a host of readers thanking you for putting their confusion into words. Don’t tell folks how they should feel. Feel what you feel, and be honest about it.

Purpose. Writers often have a prophetic gift. Not predicting the future, but explaining the present in light of larger truths. The last word of the overquoted but always appropriate Romans 8:28 is purpose. We get to connect perplexing events with God’s purposes. Often people focus on each day’s troubles without seeing the growth that God intends.

Peace. We have the power to speak peace into troubled hearts. In the 1870s, a lawyer/poet named Horatio Spafford responded to a personal tragedy by penning “It is Well with My Soul,” and succeeding generations have found comfort in those lyrics. We can use our wordsmithing gifts to craft a deeply needed message of assurance. Avoid false promises—“It’ll all be over next week”—but keep offering the powerful promises God gives us. He will be with us, always, in this world and the next.

 

 

Is Writing a Spiritual Gift?

by Joyce K. Ellis

Is writing a spiritual gift? This question often surfaces in Christian writing circles.

Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit has given each believer at least one spiritual gift—an ability entrusted to us when we began our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12:11). God gives us the particular gifts we can use. And he expects us to use these “presents” to bring him glory and expand his kingdom.

The lists of spiritual gifts that Paul and Peter give in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4 may not be exhaustive, but they reveal types of gifts that come from the Holy Spirit. We find general categories—teaching, encouraging, and leading. Not specifics, such as spring-break beach witnessing, singing with a worship team, or even writing.

But we can use each spiritual gift in many ways. Paul wrote, “There are different kinds of gifts…different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor. 12:4-6).

So, personally, I don’t believe that writing is one of “the spiritual gifts,” but it is an avenue through which we can express them.

Just as some pastor-teachers use their gift in large congregations, others at racetracks, and others in children’s work, some of us use ours in print.

Other writers use their gifts of encouragement, healing, or evangelism in their writing.

Sometimes a believer uses the same gift in multiple venues. Paul obviously put his pastor-teacher gift to work in preaching and in his writings—all of them originally letters, remember. With his spiritual gift of encouragement, he restored the once-AWOL John Mark to meaningful service—and also wrote to the Philippians, from a prison cell, about joy in difficult circumstances.

Direction

Understanding our spiritual gifts may provide direction for our writing, too. If one writer identifies his spiritual gifts as leadership, giving, and mercy, he may write about those topics, avoiding what Charles Swindoll calls “trafficking in unlived truths.” But the Lord may also lead him to write direct-appeal letters for relief organizations. Or perhaps he’ll be drawn to writing profiles about people in need, including sidebars about practical ways to help.

If another writer’s spiritual gifts include teaching and encouragement, she may find her best opportunities in expository articles or practical Christian living articles.

Avoiding frustration

Often, writing frustrations come from working outside our spiritual gifts. Some years ago, I helped a retired pastor with some writing projects. Each time we met he brought short devotionals, and he lamented his quick-turnaround rejections.

A brilliant theologian and preacher, he could have been writing expository articles and books—clarifying deep truths. So I encouraged him to use his spiritual gift of teaching to help his readers go deeper in God’s Word.

Peter reminds us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

So unwrap your spiritual gift package and look for ways to use these presents in your writing—for God.

A Really Great Shew

I grew up hearing 2 Timothy 2:15 read in church, mostly in the King James:

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

And, yes, I always giggled and thought of Ed Sullivan, who every Sunday on TV proclaimed we were in for a “really big shew”—meaning show.

And, yes, I’m that old. Get over it.

Humor aside, this concept is a really big deal for all Christians, and especially those of us who are writers. Nearly everything we write involves at least some element of “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Or, as the ESV puts it, “rightly handling the word of truth.”

For years, whenever I’ve seen a promotion for yet one more Christian writer’s conference, I’ve glanced at the workshop line-up to see what was being offered. Typically included are workshops on how to write marketable articles, crafting marketable headlines, engaging with editors to increase sales, what markets are hottest, and so on. And let us not forget the keynote speakers—successful writers who will tell us how to work the markets to be as successful as they are. (Swoon!)

What I never find are workshop topics like these:

  • Overview of current Christian theology
  • Canon and context of the Bible
  • A brief look at the Pentateuch
  • Overview of biblical literary styles
  • A short survey of the Gospels
  • A glance inside the mind of Paul
  • American church history
  • Biblical cultures and history
  • Understanding biblical poetry
  • Principles of pastoral care
  • Perspectives on the world Christian movement
  • Theology of creation

Most of us know how to write and write well. Most of us have a fairly good handle on how to shape good headlines. We know how to be marketable, punctuate sentences, and conjugate verbs. And, besides, most of what we write will be edited by someone else to fix any goof ups. Not that there will be any.

The essentials of being a good writer are pretty basic. We could all distill them down to 5 or 10 meaty items. But when it comes to God’s word, to theology, to church history—all things we need to have at least a small grip on—these are topics vast and deep.

Why do we need to know these things? Because we’re writing about Scripture, explaining it, applying it. Even if we’re not writing about exegesis, we’re doing it, on at least some level, every time we write about a biblical topic. All the biblical passages we know are being channeled into our writing, influencing our writing, even when those passages aren’t cited. It’s important that we have handled them rightly when putting them into our brain reserves to draw from later.

Sure, theology and church history can seem a little dry sometimes, but the knowledge is priceless in the context it provides for our work. Using certain terms without being aware of the vast array of theological or historical meaning behind them can blow up the intentions of your well-crafted article. Take for instance “conservative” or “fundamental.” Both of these terms don’t mean today exactly what they meant when I was in high school.

I know, it’s not very likely topics such as these will start popping up in a Christian writer’s conference near you. But we can hope! And in the meantime, look for other opportunities to feed our heads with the deep stuff.

Most colleges and universities offer online courses and certificate programs. Some are very reasonably priced. Or, if there’s a seminary or Christian school near you, find out if they allow people to audit courses or just sit in a class now and then.

If you’re fortunate enough to be a member of a larger church, prod them to offer at least one Sunday school class or small group that every few months tackles a deeper, more academic topic. Odds are you have people in the church who are qualified to teach such courses.

The bottom line is this. Hearing a good sermon every Sunday, reading devotional literature or Christian biographies, and subscribing to Christianity Today aren’t enough. These are all good and things we should be doing. But, to be truly effective as Christian communicators, we need to always be learning a little more deeply.

We need to tackle that “boring” book on theology or church history or biblical literary styles. Or take a class online. And to put it all back into something marketable, going deep can often uncover a pearl of an idea that can yield a great price with a fresh take in a published article carrying your byline.

So, let’s revisit the whole verse once more, this time in the English Standard Version (ESV):

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

This is not a passive command. It’s a two-handed let’s-get-to-it kind of effort. An effort that will yield a really great shew.

 Stephen R. Clark